Cultural Competence is Necessary for Global Innovation- With Tony Wagner, Author of “Creating Innovators”


Tony Wagner is the author of the book, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” (see my review). He is the Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Centre at Harvard and the founder of the Change Leadership Group. Wagner has served as senior advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A former high school teacher, principal, and university professor in teacher education, Wagner is the author of four books. He joins us in this interview on global innovation, education and policy.Q: You have addressed creativity and innovation in your book – what would you add to cover entrepreneurship? How should kids learn about getting a good idea *and* creating a new business/NGO?

All of the young people whom I profiled in my new book Creating Innovators have a strong entrepreneurial streak as well. Several have started their own new businesses or social ventures. I think, to be a successful entrepreneur, you need many of the same skills as someone who is a successful innovator: a desire to make a difference, and a willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes.

Q: There is concern that the US is losing its innovation edge partly because of negative attitudes towards immigrants. Will this affect innovation and startups in the US, and what can be done to reverse it?

I think there is a growing awareness among policymakers in the US that we must continue to welcome the best and the brightest from around the world. I think our President Obama received a mandate to correct our immigration policies with his re-election.

Q: You have identified Finland as a country with an innovative education system. Which other countries do you commend for creating innovators, and why?

Finland and Singapore are frequently compared because both do quite well on the international PISA test. However, I think Singapore is more of a replication society rather than an innovation society when compared to Finland. Young people there are under tremendous pressure to succeed and some will never take the kinds of risks one must take in order to be an innovator or an entrepreneur.

Q: You have made excellent recommendations to parents and educators in your book. What are three key steps for government to take to implement these changes?

What is most important for government to do is to create accountability systems in education aligned with the outcomes that matter most. What gets tested is what gets taught. Unless and until we start assessing things like critical thinking, problem-solving, the ability to learn independently and work collaboratively, and effective oral and written communication skills, these things will never be taught systematically. We must also transform the preparation of teachers, as Finland has done.

Q: A challenge for Americans is that growth is happening in emerging economies such as India and China, which are far away geographically and culturally (and Americans are often criticised for not knowing enough about the outside world). How can the US education system be changed to help students learn about other countries, to tap into innovation in their markets?

There is a growing trend in the US to teach what is often called "cultural competence." The Asia Society has been a leader in this work. I think many of the younger generation, as well as some of our leaders, understand the importance of learning from other cultures. Many more younger people travel today than in the past. All of these, in my view, are positive trends.